Review: Sega Super Monkey Ball
Title: Super Monkey Ball
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G
On July 25, 2008, iLounge published iPhone Gems: Action Puzzlers, Table + Pinball Games, a feature article looking at eight assorted games developed for the iPhone OS. This review focuses on only one title from the collection; you can read the full article, with screenshots of all of the games together, through the link above.
There’s no bigger shame than a game that has obviously been engineered to the nth degree visually but falls substantially apart because of poor controls. That, in a nutshell, is Sega’s Super Monkey Ball ($10), a seven-year old arcade game that made its console debut on Nintendo’s GameCube.
We played the game for the first time back in 2001, shortly after meeting Sega’s Toshihiro Nagoshi in a Tokyo office during the GameCube’s launch. As insane as the idea of steering a monkey in a ball through mazes sounded at the time, the GameCube controller, Nagoshi’s team’s surprisingly strong audiovisual work, and some included monkey-themed mini-games made the experience fun.
On the iPhone, Super Monkey Ball is not a complete disaster—in fact, the graphics are so impressive that you might be willing to forgive a bit—but there’s no getting around the fact that Sega screwed up on its use of the hardware accelerometer. Rather than letting the user calibrate the iPhone’s starting orientation and motion sensitivity, Sega chose a single setting that results in your monkey-filled ball rolling completely out of control unless you tilt yourself and the iPhone into a specific position. Even then, you won’t find that you have a great deal of control over the ball, a fact that first-time Monkey Ballers might assume is inherent to the gameplay despite the fact that it definitely is not, and needn’t be here.
Compounding this is the game’s save system, which doesn’t keep track of your progress on a stage by stage basis; instead, there are five save points spread out over 110 stages. Consequently, though there is a lot to play through, it wouldn’t be surprising if you wanted to stop after 15 stages and then became bored after having to repeat them again and again. If the original Monkey Ball’s mini-games are still in here, waiting to be unlocked—which we doubt—we have no idea, because we couldn’t bring ourselves to keep playing all the way to the end since the game kept forgetting our position.
There are some positives to the translation, including a fairly nice attempt to preserve the original game’s frame rate and general polygon counts; though objects and backgrounds aren’t as detailed as in the first GameCube title, they’re better than what you’d see on on most handhelds, save for the Sony PSP. Music similarly isn’t as catchy as in the first game, but it’s not bad, either. Our impression is that Super Monkey Ball was rushed a bit to make the launch of the App Store, and though it’s a decent game as-is, it would be a lot better if its controls and save system were updated to let people enjoy their progression through the stages.